One of several significant issues touched on by the High Court in the Parti Liyani case is the Liew family’s “improper motives” in making a police report for alleged theft against her.
Justice Chan Seng Onn, in allowing Ms Parti’s appeal against her conviction and jail sentence, ruled in September that the said “improper motives” pertained to former Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his son Karl Liew’s move to lodge the report to stop Ms Parti from notifying the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) regarding the cleaning work she was made to do at Mr Karl’s home at 39 Chancery Lane and his office at Killiney Road.
Addressing the issue of motive in the case in a ministerial statement last week, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that the High Court did note that Ms Parti did not actually say that she was going to complain about having been made to work at Mr Karl’s house or office.
Thus, said the Minister, the High Court’s interpretation of Ms Parti’s intention to complain to MOM was “an inference” that the court had made “based on the evidence and submissions before it”.
Ms Parti had in fact, according to Mr Shanmugam, only explicitly said that she wished to lodge a complaint to MOM based on the reason that her employment was terminated on such short notice.
“Further investigations”, he added, revealed that on the same day Ms Parti’s service was terminated on 28 October 2016, the domestic helper agents had offered to help her twice with lodging the complaint to MOM.
“The first time was at 49 CL, when Ms Liyani first said that she wanted to complain. And the second time was at the agent’s office, before they left for the airport. Ms Liyani declined on both occasions,” said Mr Shanmugam.
The Minister said that Ms Parti lodged her complaint about illegal deployment after she was charged with theft in September and October 2017.
Mr Shanmugam’s points were rehashed by the Ministry of Home Affairs in a video of what it deems to be “key takeaways” from the statement, as seen in the screenshots below.
Mr Shanmugam in his ministerial statement also said that the prosecution did not obtain or put forward this evidence because “the issue had not been raised by the defence in its case for defence or at the pre-trial conferences”.
Thus, the above points were not dug into as a result, he said.
It was previously noted, however, that Ms Parti’s counsel Anil Balchandani was actually repeatedly prevented by Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Yanying and District Judge Olivia Low from raising the issue of his client’s intention to alert MOM regarding the illegal deployment.
Judge Low at one point said that “there is nothing” that was placed before her about investigations by MOM on the aforementioned issue.
DPP Tan also moved to question as to how the MOM investigations were relevant to Ms Parti’s trial.
“Whether or not there has been MOM investigations, there is clearly no connection whatsoever,” she told the court.
Both the judge and DPP Tan branded Mr Anil’s attempts to highlight the issue during his cross-examination of Mr Karl — called as a witness by the prosecution — as “irrelevant”, with Judge Low stating that matters pertaining to the MOM investigations are of a civil nature.
Mr Anil, at one point, however, argued that DPP Tan protested his move to raise the issue out of fear of “what may come out of this”.
“This is relevant because it is very close to the events of October 2016, when Parti was asked to leave,” he submitted.
Judge Low, however, said that while she would “allow that line of questioning”, she did not believe “it should extend to MOM investigations” and that she would allow the prosecution to object should Mr Anil continue to raise the matter.
In the same hearing, which took place on 16 July 2018, Judge Low said: “Any MOM investigations which are not before me are not relevant, you see”.
When Mr Anil highlighted that the judge had disallowed him from asking questions on possible MOM investigations, Judge Low reiterated that there was no need for the defence counsel to delve into the MOM investigations, as “there will be no end to the Cross-Examination”.
Parti had “ample basis” to lodge complaint to MOM over illegal deployment”: Justice Chan Seng Onn
In his full judgement, spanning over a hundred pages, Justice Chan reasoned that “there was in fact ample basis for Parti to make a complaint to the MOM” based on the evidence shown by Parti regarding the “illegal cleaning work” she was asked to carry out at Mr Karl’s residence at 39 Chancery Lane and at his office.
“Parti’s evidence is that she received $10 for two to three days of work, and the payment was not regular,” he said.
Justice Chan also drew attention to conflicts between the domestic worker and the Liew family involving Ms Parti’s refusal to clean the toilet in Mr Karl’s residence and her objection against making extra food for him.
“Further, when Karl told Parti that her employment was terminated, her immediate response to him was “I know why. You angry because I refused to clean up your toilet”,” the judge noted.
On top of Ms Parti making her unhappiness evident regarding being made to do the illegal cleaning work “probably without adequate compensation”, Justice Chan highlighted that such an arrangement “was illegal and an offence against the MOM regulations”.
Under MOM’s rules on hiring foreign domestic workers, a domestic worker is only permitted to work for her employer and at the residential address stated in her Work Permit.
The only exception listed on the MOM website is if it is necessary for the domestic worker to be placed at another address for the purpose of caring for the employer’s young children or elderly parents during day time.
The penalty for illegal deployment of a foreign domestic worker is a fine of up to S$10,000 and possibly a ban on hiring foreign domestic workers.
Justice Chan reasoned that Ms Parti’s express mention of her intentions to complain to MOM about her illegal deployment “would most likely have meant that Parti would immediately lose her job”.
Such a prospect, he noted, might have placed Ms Parti in “in a dilemma as to whether she should make such a complaint or even tell the Liew family that she intended to do so” if she continued to be asked to do work outside of Mr Liew’s home at 49 Chancery Lane.
The earlier disputes, however, may have served as “hints to the Liew family” that Ms Parti was not keen on doing work outside of Mr Liew’s home, said Justice Chan.
“In my judgment, there is reason to believe that the Liew family, upon realising her unhappiness, took the pre-emptive first step to terminate her employment suddenly without giving her sufficient time for her to pack, in the hope that Parti would not use the time to make a complaint to MOM,” he reasoned.
The police report lodged by the Liews after Ms Parti explicitly stated her desire to notify MOM of her illegal deployment after her sudden termination, Justice Chan observed, was a way to “ensure her return would be prevented”.
“Given the seriousness of the consequences that might follow from what Parti said she would do, I have reason to believe that the Liew family would be very concerned that Parti would carry out her threat to report the matter to MOM,” he said.
The Liew family’s decision to abruptly terminate Ms Parti’s employment, noted Justice Chan, was based on items that went missing “over the years” and not those were recently discovered to be missing around the time the termination took place.
“In my view, this is not believable and it is more likely that the fear of Parti’s complaint to MOM rendered her termination urgent, at least in the eyes of the Liew family,” he said.
Based on the above, said Justice Chan, the prosecution had “failed to dispel the reasonable doubt” mounted by the defence.
He stressed that the prosecution had failed to demonstrate that there was no improper motive by Mr Liew and Mr Karl in making the police report against Ms Parti “just two days” after she made an express threat to alert MOM about her illegal deployment.
A crucial thing to note is that the purported new evidence provided by Mr Shanmugam in his ministerial statement in Parliament last week was never tested in court, and — as demonstrated in the above excerpts from the trial transcript — was prevented from being presented or cross-examined in court.
What is, then, the Ministry of Home Affairs’ intention in producing the video and featuring such half-truths and non-independent testimonials?